Episcopal Diocese closes historic St. Margaret’s Church

The following article appeared in Clay Today on March 22, 2012

By Christina Leach Phillips

Correspondent

FLEMINGISLAND– With a dwindling congregation of about 40 members and a shortage of funds, St. Margaret’s Episcopal Church, Hibernia, onFlemingIslandofficially closed its doors after holding its last worship service on Sunday, March 4.

The Reverend Kimberly Still conducted the final service at the church onPine Avenuethat has struggled financially in recent years.

Anna Grass, who attended the final service, said, “The congregation is very upset about this. They were doing everything they could, but it wasn’t enough. . . People were crying. . . Some of these people had been there for 30 years.”

The Episcopal Diocese of Florida said in a release that it was “restructuring” the church.

In late February, the Right Rev. Samuel Johnson Howard, Bishop of Florida, received a request from St. Margaret’s vestry – its parish governing board – which had decided that the church as presently managed and configured was no longer sustainable as a parish. The request included the vestry’s desire to hold final worship services on March 4.

“God willing, this will not mark the end of the ministry of St. Margaret’s, but will, rather, provide an opportunity for prayer, conversation and the seeking of Divine guidance with regard to the future of this wonderful and historic parish,” Bishop Howard said.

The church’s expansive campus, with a large and relatively new main church building, includes an office and classroom building as well as an original Carpenter Gothic chapel, built in 1878 with its adjoining cemetery.

The chapel is one of the five oldest wooden church buildings still in use in Florida. St. Margaret’s and the cemetery are on the National Register of Historic Places.

As part of the restructuring, the Diocese will take into account the historical significance of the chapel

“I don’t think that a part of the plan is to do anything to disturb the historical nature of that space,” said Doug Walker, the Bishop’s Deputy for Advancement/Executive Director of Episcopal Foundation. “It is our intent to keep it as a worship space.”

In the meantime, the Diocese will maintain the church grounds and pay the bills for the church. “Typically, that is the case for churches that are unable to fund any of their current operating expenses — the Diocese will pick those up,” saidWalker.

The remaining members of St. Margaret’s have been welcomed into the parish community at other area Episcopal churches. In addition, neighboring Episcopal clergy members have offered to work with the bishop to hold worship services in the historic chapel during the restructuring.

Is there is a possibility that the church will reopen? “It is our desire to hold occasional and special services at St. Margaret’s after some period of discernment for the space, which will encompass a study of the needs of the surrounding community and the Diocese,” saidWalker.

Bishop Howard said, “I remain committed to the future of St. Margaret’s, while mindful that this parish must change in order to meet the challenges before it.”

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